Managing the contact center for maximum effectiveness has taken on a whole new level of importance as today’s agents are signing up for a very different social contract than what has been in place over the past decade when they predominantly worked traditional 8- to 10-hour shifts. Today, it’s not unheard of for agents to contribute their skills and expertise in terms of minutes as opposed to hours.
This is in line with the mega employment trend of the “gig economy” where the workforce is increasingly gravitating toward flexible, gig-based work. They are independent contractors, freelance or participating in talent pools that offer up on-demand employment opportunities. One key premise of the gig economy is that workers have access to more flexible work scenarios and have more control over their schedule.
According to a 2018 Gallup survey, 36% of all working Americans are participating in a “gig work” arrangement in some capacity, while 29% have alternative gig work arrangements as their primary jobs. All told, that means roughly 57 million Americans are turning to gig-based employment, which is growing faster than the traditional full-time job market.
Workforce Flexibility in the Contact Center
In the contact center, where talent management is quintessential, rising to the challenge of supporting the need for work flexibility is the new imperative and critical to retain highly talented agents.
This is ushering in the advent of new scheduling paradigms featuring split- and micro-shifts and even “reserve-working”—fluid, on-demand shifts that are offered to a pool of agents as needed during peak periods. Contact centers are also responding to new flexibility demands by offering different break options. For example, agents may want a larger schedule split—such as working two to three hours in the morning, and two to three hours later that same day. Agents also want the flexibility to easily view available shifts and pick up extra shifts and overtime easily in the manner they do all things today—via their mobile phone.
However, this new uber-heterogenous mix of full-time, part-time, contract and virtual agents has made the sheer act of scheduling center resources exponentially more difficult and complex. But necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. To this end, the gig economy is heralding some of the most significant changes in workforce management in decades.
To meet the demands for workforce flexibility while ensuring organizations have the requisite contact center coverage, new artificial intelligence-infused automation and mobile tools are being put to the task. Managers need the ability to schedule the right agents at the right time—whether it’s fixed or on-the-fly, multiskilled or single channel, on an actual or virtual floor, traditional eight-hour shifts or in increments of mere minutes.
AI-infused automation enhances decision-making and forecast accuracy, taking into account myriad data points and changes, and supporting task-blending for individual workers. Enhanced mobile app functionality enables contact center agents and back-office staff to swap shifts and make other schedule changes on-the-fly without being tied to their desktops, while supervisors can receive schedule change requests and approve or deny them just as easily.
Technology-Enabled Capabilities to Support the Gig Economy
While agile scheduling is essential for contact center operations in the gig economy, so too are other key technology-enabled capabilities. These include:
Streamlining onboarding and training. When offering flexibility via shorter shifts and fewer hours per week, organizations can experience overall growth in total agent workforce numbers. This heightens the need for streamlined onboarding and training processes. Robotic Process Automation and Intelligent Virtual Assistants operating as Smart Work Coaches on the agent desktop can assist agents to become integrated into the contact center workforce and trained in the most expedient manner.
Knowledge assistance. Organizations must put in place a knowledge fabric that can flow in and around every agent workforce node to ensure that even lesser experienced agents have information at hand to be effective on Day 1 in responding to customer issues and questions. Real-time speech analytics integrated with knowledge management can surface “next steps” and/or knowledge base articles right on the agent’s desktop to assist the agent in efficient responses.
Quality control and coaching. Automated quality management, which can automatically review call transcripts and score 100% of agent calls, can analyze interactions to understand how agents—particularly those who are new to the job—are performing. In addition, this can drive coaching and automated delivery of e-learning modules to guide skills development so organizations can guide their gig economy workforces to peak performance.
The new contact center workforce is agile and dynamic, and agents expect the technology provided at their workplace to be just as sophisticated and easy to use as the technology that drives their personal lives. To address this growing gig economy trend, organizations must adopt the latest workforce management technology solutions to stay ahead of the competition and continue to attract and retain talented agents who desire flexibility and technology that supports the way they like to work.